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San Francisco Mayor London Breed is proposing an amendment to a city law regarding the use of surveillance cameras by law enforcement in an effort to improve public safety.

Breed plans to introduce legislation at this week’s supervisors meeting to amend the city’s Surveillance Technology Ordinance, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2019.

Breed, speaking on Jan. 18, also introduced a ballot measure that would allow voters to decide on the amendment in the June elections. The ballot measure would only move forward if the Board of Supervisors votes against Breed’s proposed legislation, city officials said.

According to Breed, the amendment is needed in order to allow local authorities to access and use real-time video footage. Under the current Surveillance Technology Ordinance, authorities can only access the footage during emergencies involving imminent danger or serious physical injury to a person.

Breed’s proposed amendment would explicitly allow law enforcement to temporarily use cameras to monitor high crime areas and respond to critical events like looting, kidnappings, organized thefts and terrorist acts, among other events.

“We can give our law enforcement the tools they need, while also maintaining strong oversight and safeguards to ensure these tools are used appropriately to address dangerous criminal activity.”

Mayor London Breed

“We are talking about violent crimes, including property crimes that are being perpetrated more frequently with the use of guns, getaway vehicles and other weapons that can seriously injure or even kill innocent bystanders,” Breed said in a statement. “These situations also include entrenched open air drug dealing, again with the use of firearms and other weapons, in neighborhoods where families and seniors are afraid to leave their homes.”

“We can give our law enforcement the tools they need, while also maintaining strong oversight and safeguards to ensure these tools are used appropriately to address dangerous criminal activity,” she said.

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott is backing Breed’s proposed changes.

Although Breed has promised safeguards and oversight for proposed amendments, several supervisors criticized Breed’s plan and introduced their own ballot measure to further ensure transparency around the use of surveillance cameras.

Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Connie Chan, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Dean Preston have introduced the Safe Communities and Government Transparency Act. The ballot measure would reinforce the existing law around surveillance technology, which in addition to banning facial recognition also requires the police department to submit use policies around surveillance technologies.

Supervisors allege the ballot measure is needed because the police department has repeatedly failed to submit use policies regarding dozens of surveillance devices in two and a half years since the initial technology surveillance ordinance was passed.

San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju is in support of the supervisors’ proposed ballot measure.

“Expanding police surveillance empowers a department that continues to disproportionately target and harm communities of color,” Raju said. “San Franciscans have long rejected giving police expansive powers to swoop up more people into a biased criminal legal system. Drug use and economic crimes can’t be addressed by expanding the police state; they are prevented by investing in marginalized communities.”